SWAN RIVER, Man. — Austen Anderson’s face shows little emotion as he, his saddle horse and herding dog quietly wrangle a pair of runaway cows back into the paddock with the rest of the Angus herd.
He, with his parents, Ione and Bruce, run a 180 head cow-calf operation on 10 quarters of land in northwestern Manitoba. His sister Breanna, 20, helps out when she’s home from agriculture studies at the University of Saskatchewan.
Austen, 23, who plans to marry next summer, points to a rise of land where he hopes to build a home one day. For now, he lives in the rustic log bungalow his parents built on the farm.
The land, half of which is rented, grows feed grains and silage and is used for pastures and fall grazing of standing corn for the Anderson Cattle Co.
The siblings represent the fifth generation of Anderson farmers. Their ancestors, who homesteaded in this region in 1898, can be traced back to the home of Angus cattle in Aberdeen, Scotland. Bruce’s grandfather bought the first Angus cow in 1933.
“He was very forward thinking and was involved with the ag society,” said Ione.
Bruce’s father, Doug, was also active in the Canadian Angus Association and on the founding board of the Canadian Gelbvieh Association. He imported the first Gelbvieh to Canada in 1972.
Today, the family focuses much of its efforts on marketing two-year-old Angus bulls at its annual sale, which was forced to move to the farm this March after the auction mart in Swan River closed because of declining local cattle numbers.
It’s just one of many challenges the family has faced.
An autoimmune disease, diagnosed 21 years ago, forces Bruce to make frequent trips to Winnipeg to see specialists. The related fatigue reduces his work schedule.
The BSE outbreak, when cattle prices fell to $200 from $800 a head, was another setback.
“There were times when we didn’t think we’d make it,” said Ione.
“Sometimes when we get frustrated at where we’re at, we look outside and see what we’ve done,” she said of a farm operation they built themselves from the ground up with help from off-farm jobs.
Austen is a high school teacher in Swan River, Ione works in accounting and Bruce was a lumber grader for seven years. Forestry and a strandboard plant are among major industries in Swan River, a major service hub for the region.
Ione said her children put in long days doing chores before and after school to help out.
“There were no weekends at the lake. The kids knew from an early age how to do things,” said Ione.
“(On the farm), they learn more of life and death before they reach kindergarten.”
The Andersons raise Angus be-cause of the breed’s maternal traits and carcass quality.
“An Angus cow will keep you going,” Bruce said about the premium price received at market.
He artificially inseminates heifers bound for bred heifer markets, while Austen manages cattle treatments and Ione does the books.
“She tells us what we can and can’t afford,” said Bruce.
Added Austen: “Dad is most knowledgeable about breeding decisions.”
Breanna takes photos for the sale, and Austen uses Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and a website for marketing in addition to mailouts and print advertising.
“I want to be everywhere someone’s looking for information,” said Austen, who also uses the website and cattle shows to market his western artwork.
The Andersons take advantages of their fertile locale in a former lake basin that boasts no crop failures, even during the Dirty Thirties.
“Grandma talks of coming here to an oasis in the desert,” said Bruce.
They have good drainage, good rainfall and gravity-fed watering systems that take advantage of sloping land.
A shorter growing season is offset by good heat units and longer growing days than southern regions.
“Our cow herd is very functional and low maintenance,” said Ione, who added the cattle are enrolled in the Canadian Angus Performance Program.
Bruce plans to show his animals at the National Angus Show in Virden, Man., Manitoba Ag Days in Brandon and Canadian Western Agribition in Regina.
The main goal is to cultivate a livelihood here and leave a legacy for his children, he said.
Bruce and Ione are former Manitoba Outstanding Young Farmers finalists.
Iona, who grew up on a farm at Minitonas, Man., and Bruce are longtime leaders in 4-H, where they first met. They also organize an agriculture exhibit at the local fair.
“Hopefully future generations will be able to sustain this way of life,” said Bruce.